In July of 2013, when the oldest son of Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Bythewood — the husband/wife co-producers of Shots Fired, learned that George Zimmerman had been found not guilty of second degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin, he was distraught. Wanting to do more than simply console their son, the couple took action in the best way they knew how, the outcome is the 10-hour film, “Shots Fired” which debuted at Sundance Film Festival in January and began airing on the Fox network a few weeks ago.
The series has received good reviews but most notably, from this reporter’s perspective, is the buzz Shots Fired is receiving in a wide range of circles. The Hollywood Reporter aptly characterized Shots Fired as a “provocative conversation starter”. It is being talked about in activist communities and among progressives. With that in mind, Sharon Kyle, publisher of the LA Progressive and the Hollywood Progressive chatted online with Shots Fired co-producer Reggie Bythewood just hours before the next segment airs on Fox — a segment Bythewood promises will not disappoint.
SK: The genesis of the idea that eventually became your 10-hour film, “Shots Fired” started with your son’s reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder. Tell me a little about the conversation you had with your son upon hearing the verdict.
RB: The Zimmerman verdict led me to have a man-to-man conversation with my son about the justice system and some of its failings as it pertains to African-Americans in this country. My son was shaken by the verdict. He asked me how this could happen. I decided to share the story of Emmett Till with him. After he viewed a video about Emmett Till on YouTube, he sat down and put pen to paper, writing a short story about Trayvon Martin going to Heaven and meeting Emmett Till.
SK: I understand that your son’s short story has been incorporated into the story line.
RB: Yes. As part of our research process, we had our son read the story to our writing staff. However, it was the writer of tonight’s hour, Marissa Jo Cerar, who thought the story should be incorporated into the film.
SK: Is the reading of your son’s short story being aired tonight?
RB: Yes, my son’s short story is read in part by Shawn (Kylen Davis) in an emotional scene with his mother Shameeka (DeWanda Wise). The scene, originally shot in May of 2016, preceded the confession by Carolyn Bryant, that Emmett Till did not whistle at her (the “crime” that cost Emmett Till his life). While this new revelation is not reflected in the scene, the short story suggests, Emmett, Trayvon and so many others, should never have lost their lives.
SK: How old was your son when he wrote the story?
RB: He was twelve.
SK: Is Shawn (Kylen Davis) about the age of your son?
RB: The character of Shawn is 13 years old.
SK: Other than incorporating the piece your son wrote, are there any other real-life experiences that have been written into Shots Fired that come directly from the lives of the writers or their family and friends.
RB: One of our writers, David Shanks, a brother who was on the Chicago Police force had interesting struggles to share. Marissa’s dad was a politician in a small town and she offered much insight into what a politician like Helen Hunt’s character might go through. In addition, so much of our writing was drawn from what we called, Shots Fired University, an intense research process. We met with several people including Wanda Johnson (mother of Oscar Grant) who greatly influenced tonight’s hour. In fact, Wanda joined us for our roundtable discussion that is shown on the Shots Fired FaceBook page after the broadcast.
SK: Did you see a change in your son after he began to learn more about the vulnerabilities associated with being a black man in the United States?
RB: It was a loss of innocence after the Zimmerman trial and his world view began to shift. However, his idealism is now fueled by the idea that he can make a difference. I hope he never loses that sense of purpose.
SK: What do you and Gina hope to achieve by telling this story
RB: By the time we get to Hour Ten, we hope the audience will receive some subtle suggestions of how we can all make a difference. As for tonight, layers of the mystery are peeled back. We hope to get the audience at the edge of their seats as they connect with the humanity of our characters.
SK: Can you see the story expanding into a second season that might perhaps include explorations of other forms of racial and ethnic discrimination.
RB: Sure. We were very careful to solve the mystery in our Ten-Hour film. However, there are certainly other issues, other real-life events we could tackle if we were to do another season.
SK: Has the show had a positive impact or in any way helped to shift the dialog?
RB: We spoke with a high-ranking member in law enforcement. An African-American, who thought Shots Fired could be helpful in police training. That was a pleasant surprise and we’ll see where that goes. This will certainly need to be a group effort. We hope that our work and the work of others will help find solutions that will improve the relationship between law-enforcement and communities of color. While I remain optimistic with the possibility of change, our oldest boy is sixteen-years-old and will be taking his driving test soon. Certainly, I have given him “The Talk.”
“Shots Fired” aires at 8:00pm on Fox